It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a full two decades since we first met Pink—the most memorable pop music rebel in recent memory who has managed to maintain her spot in commercial Top 40 music despite the ever-changing parameters of the fickle, unreliable genre at large. If you recall, when she first arrived on the scene, Pink was the antihero to commercial pop princesses like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears (“Tired of being compared, to damn Britney Spears… She’s so pretty, that just ain’t me!” she famously sang on “Don’t Let Me Get Me” from 2001). Thereafter, Pink began to resonate in the same way as the other pop rock queens of the 2000s like Avril Lavigne or Kelly Clarkson, with forgotten jams like “God is a DJ” being lost in comparison to the legacies of songs like “Sk8er Boi” or “Since U Been Gone.” Pink’s true turning point was in 2006 with the release of her fourth studio album I’m Not Dead—which solidified her as an era-defining star of the 2000s with the addition of both poignant social and political commentaries (remember when she and the Indigo Girls asked if President George Bush would take a walk with them?) as well as her shameless, cutthroat tendency to drop F-bombs in her singles that somehow conversely turned her into one of the most commercially reliable artists in pop, and she’s stayed there ever since.
Her simultaneously heartwarming and take-no-prisoners attitude was not without backlash—“What if this song’s on the radio, then somebody’s gonna die” she cheekily sang on lead single “So What” from her 2008 studio album Funhouse—a response to criticism for profanity in her singles that received radio play nonetheless. After a public separation and then reconciliation with longtime husband Carey Hart—which provided continued inspiration for 2012’s The Truth About Love—Pink entered a hiatus. She recorded a collaborative album with Canadian musician Dallas Green as a duo called You+Me in 2014, and took time off to raise daughter Willow (born 2011) and son Jameson (born 2016). Her seventh studio album and first in five years, Beautiful Trauma, arrived in 2017 and was a combination of the socially and politically conscious Pink from the 2000s with a more grown-up, level-headed Pink we had only seen glimpses of in the past. The album was one of the highest-selling records of the year and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album.
In the midst of a sold-out worldwide tour spanning nearly two years, Pink announced this February on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that she had a new single, “Walk Me Home,” from a new album, Hurts 2B Human, expected in the spring. The announcement was exciting at best since most Pink fans had become used to waiting at least 4 to 5 years between new studio albums, and the release of her previous lead single “What About Us” was one of the strongest songs from this decade. Although, it is worth noting that with the release of Beautiful Trauma, Pink gained a label that the Pink from ten years ago never would have received—people started calling her boring and predictable. “Since when did she become such a basic pop singer?” read one review. “She had kids and got boring” flooded comments on YouTube. It was in stark contrast to the generally positive reviews the album did receive—since Beautiful Trauma was a much more mature, personal offering without overproduced efforts than we had received from Pink in a long time, it’s definitely one of her best albums—but observations that she had grown up and gotten boring was in fact chipping away at a larger issue: Pink, aided perhaps by the Top 40 commercial pop world that has yet to evict her, has been allowed to age. She has been allowed to still be successful without necessarily pushing boundaries, something that is quite frankly not an option to many other female pop stars. Ageism in pop music especially concerning women is nothing new, but just like the F-bombs she used to through on the radio with no regrets, Pink flipped everyone the bird by reaching a new stage in life and was still allowed the same success as a pop singer that she was given as a twentysomething talking smack about stupid L.A. girls. This has a tendency to bother some pop music fans who continue to root for other female pop stars who must always be original and push boundaries to see commercial success and get people to pay attention to them. I suppose that’s somewhat valid—but it’s not Pink’s fault, since blaming female celebrities for larger cultural issues is an age-old trick.
On her latest studio effort Hurts 2B Human, Pink sets out to replicate Beautiful Trauma’s winning formula of anthemic bops and emotional, heartfelt ballads and the result is, well, the sequel that doesn’t quite live up to the original. “What About Us” from Beautiful Trauma succeeded because of the strong production and comeback promotion that it received, but also because it provided some much-needed commentary on the ambiguous political climate of the United States in 2017, when Donald Trump had first become president. In comparison, “Walk Me Home” achieves the same level of anthemic restitution that makes you want to sing it from the rooftops, but it’s not as strong—or as original. I think the missing link now between Pink and socially/politically conscious songs is that they’ve become much more commonplace than they were in 2006 when she released “Dear Mr. President” or when the Dixie Chicks said they weren’t ready to make nice. Not to say they resonate any less, or that “Walk Me Home” is not as welcome as any other artist singing about all that’s wrong in the world right now, but the lyrics and the song itself play it a little too safe to pack the punch that it’s going for. And as result, Hurts 2B Human as a whole plays it somewhat too safe while simultaneously coming across as a bit unoriginal and incredibly underwhelming.
Unoriginal is not a label I would want to ever give to a Pink album, but unfortunately it feels like the only fitting term for Hurts 2B Human. She is right—it does hurt to be human. Being alive is hard, especially in an era when swindling politicians and human rights being taken away are constantly inundating the news. The overall theme that she is going for on the album is something Pink has done quite well in the past on both I’m Not Dead and Beautiful Trauma—that life is complicated and emotional, and that we should all strive to understand each other a little better. But most songs on Hurts 2B Human lack the emotional punch and fight-or-die energy that we came to love on previous Pink songs like “Beautiful Trauma,” “True Love,” “Please Don’t Leave Me,” or “Who Knew.” The album’s opening tracks, “Hustle” and “(Hey Why) Miss You Sometime,” have an overwhelming sense of been there, done that. Thereafter, she opts to focus largely on ballads about growing up. She sang about longing to go back to playing Barbies in her room on Beautiful Trauma, and reunites with acclaimed songwriter Julia Michaels for a new lamentation called “My Attic.” She sings about finding strength on “Courage” (written with Sia) and whether she has always stood in the way of her own happiness on “Happy” (bringing back fond memories of “Nobody Knows” from I’m Not Dead). She covers the pains of being human with Khalid, and delivers catchy EDM on one of the album’s highlights—“Can We Pretend” (since reality is boring), featuring Cash Cash. But the end result just doesn’t live up to her other albums—it’s frustrating that what feels like the only memorable highlight from an album called Hurts 2B Human is an EDM song which poses the question “can we pretend, that we both like the president?” (with a signature Pink chuckle near the end of the song). I feel like perhaps more time could have benefited the album with some more creativity and originality—it hasn’t even been a full two years since Beautiful Trauma, making this the shortest gap between Pink albums since 2001’s Missundaztood and 2003’s Try This (which is interesting considering Pink has referred to the latter as her most rushed and inauthentic album).
I don’t subscribe to the criticism that Pink got older, had kids, and became boring. I think that’s sexist and misogynistic at the very least. I don’t think Hurts 2B Human is lacking merely because it’s unoriginal in comparison to other pop artists who are forging paths and pushing boundaries, since that is also a little misogynistic. I think it’s lacking just because it doesn’t pack the same emotional punch that we’ve come to expect from Pink. I think she may have tried too soon to replicate her newfound formula for adult-woman pop success from Beautiful Trauma with her previous socially and politically conscious lyrics and ballads from the 2000s, and the end result was not as enthralling as I would have hoped. Pink once referred to the promotional period for her third studio album Try This as a terrible time in which it felt like people were “putting a quarter in the slot to watch the monkey dance.” I would like to believe that, as a global superstar and household name (and a strong, badass woman), she would no longer need to rely heavily on lengthy promotional tours led by her label and management. After all, Hurts 2B Human was very casually announced on Ellen just a few months before it was released, so I wouldn’t want to think that the album was born from a label forcing her to produce a new pop album solely for profit and that’s why it sounds somewhat unoriginal. I think Hurts 2B Human was born from Pink’s classic tendency to be outspoken through her art during stormy political times and an anxious era where nothing is certain. She’s also spoken about how motherhood has “completely changed” her, and how it has led her to think twice about the world she’s leaving for her kids. Epiphanies providing inspiration for her music is nothing new for Pink—considering I’m Not Dead was born from her father having a heart attack and realizing the reality of adult responsibilities and everyday life.
Usually, even when her songwriting is formulaic—covering a wide range of heavy topics from divorce, drug abuse, or sobriety—Pink sings with such emotion and conviction that she can convince you a song is so much better than it would have been otherwise. And I’m just not hearing that on Hurts 2B Human. Maybe Pink is simply more interesting when she’s singing about her marriage or how she hates the president, but that’s not really the case, since she’s long since proven she has the ability to make good and relevant music about a wide range of topics. The album just isn’t her best work, and feels like she may still be capitalizing and holding onto the success of Beautiful Trauma. Nonetheless, Pink doesn’t have to prove anything anymore. We’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her for the last 20 years, and something tells me she still has more in store for us.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Hurts 2B Human: “Walk Me Home,” “My Attic,” “Can We Pretend,” and “Happy”